| Egyptian hieroglyph
| Old Semitic
| Latin |
The Greek eta 'Η' in Archaic Greek alphabets still represented /h/ (later on it came to represent a long vowel, /ɛː/). In this context, the letter eta is also known as heta to underline this fact. Thus, in the Old Italic alphabets, the letter heta of the Euboean alphabet was adopted with its original sound value /h/.
While Etruscan and Latin had /h/ as a phoneme, almost all Romance languages lost the sound—Romanian later re-borrowed the /h/ phoneme from its neighbouring Slavic languages, and Spanish developed a secondary /h/ from /f/, before losing it again; various Spanish dialects have developed [h] as an allophone of /s/ or /x/ in most Spanish-speaking countries, and various dialects of Portuguese use it as an allophone of /ʀ/. 'H' is also used in many spelling systems in digraphs and trigraphs, such as 'ch', which represents /tʃ/ in Spanish, Galician, Old Portuguese and English, /ʃ/ in French and modern Portuguese, /k/ in Italian, French and English, /x/ in German, Czech language, Polish, Slovak, one native word of English and a few loanwords into English, and /ç/ in German.
Name in English
For most English speakers, the name for the letter is pronounced // and spelled 'aitch' or occasionally 'eitch'. The pronunciation // and the associated spelling 'haitch' is often considered to be h-adding and is considered nonstandard in England. It is, however, a feature of Hiberno-English and other varieties of English, such as In Northern Ireland, it is a shibboleth as Protestant schools teach aitch and Catholics haitch. In the Republic of Ireland, the letter h is generally pronounced as "haitch".
The perceived name of the letter affects the choice of indefinite article before initialisms beginning with H: for example "an H-bomb" or "a H-bomb". The pronunciation /ˈheɪtʃ/ may be a hypercorrection formed by analogy with the names of the other letters of the alphabet, most of which include the sound they represent.
The haitch pronunciation of h has spread in England, being used by approximately 24% of English people born since 1982 and polls continue to show this pronunciation becoming more common among younger native speakers. Despite this increasing number, pronunciation without the // sound is still considered to be standard in England, although the pronunciation with // is also attested as a legitimate variant.
Authorities disagree about the history of the letter's name. The Oxford English Dictionary says the original name of the letter was [ˈaha] in Latin; this became [ˈaka] in Vulgar Latin, passed into English via Old French [ˈatʃ], and by Middle English was pronounced [ˈaːtʃ]. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language derives it from French hache from Latin haca or hic. Anatoly Liberman suggests a conflation of two obsolete orderings of the alphabet, one with H immediately followed by K and the other without any K: reciting the former's ..., H, K, L,... as [...(h)a ka el ...] when reinterpreted for the latter ..., H, L,... would imply a pronunciation [(h)a ka] for H.
Use in writing systems
In English, ⟨h⟩ occurs as a single-letter grapheme (being either silent or representing //) and in various digraphs, such as ⟨ch⟩ //, //, //, or //), ⟨gh⟩ (silent, /ɡ/, /k/, /p/, or /f/), ⟨ph⟩ (/f/), ⟨rh⟩ (/r/), ⟨sh⟩ (//), ⟨th⟩ (// or //), ⟨wh⟩ (/hw/). The letter is silent in a syllable rime, as in ah, ohm, dahlia, cheetah, pooh-poohed, as well as in certain other words (mostly of French origin) such as hour, honest, herb (in American but not British English) and vehicle. Initial /h/ is often not pronounced in the weak form of some function words including had, has, have, he, her, him, his, and in some varieties of English (including most regional dialects of England and Wales) it is often omitted in all words (see '⟨h⟩'-dropping). It was formerly common for an rather than a to be used as the indefinite article before a word beginning with /h/ in an unstressed syllable, as in "an historian", but use of a is now more usual (see English articles § Indefinite article).
In the German language, the name of the letter is pronounced /haː/. Following a vowel, it often silently indicates that the vowel is long: In the word erhöhen ('heighten'), only the first ⟨h⟩ represents /h/. In 1901, a spelling reform eliminated the silent ⟨h⟩ in nearly all instances of ⟨th⟩ in native German words such as thun ('to do') or Thür ('door'). It has been left unchanged in words derived from Greek, such as Theater ('theater') and Thron ('throne'), which continue to be spelled with ⟨th⟩ even after the last German spelling reform.
In Spanish and Portuguese, ⟨h⟩ ("hache" in Spanish, agá in Portuguese, pronounced [aˈɣa] or [ɐˈɡa]) is a silent letter with no pronunciation, as in hijo [ˈixo] ('son') and húngaro [ˈũɡaɾu] ('Hungarian'). The spelling reflects an earlier pronunciation of the sound /h/. It is sometimes pronounced with the value [h], in some regions of Andalusia, Extremadura, Canarias, Cantabria and the Americas in the beginning of some words. ⟨h⟩ also appears in the digraph ⟨ch⟩, which represents /tʃ/ in Spanish and northern Portugal, and /ʃ/ in oral traditions that merged both sounds (the latter originarily represented by ⟨x⟩ instead) e.g. in most of the Portuguese language and some Spanish-speaking places, prominently Chile, as well as ⟨nh⟩ /r/ and ⟨lh⟩ /ʎ/ in Portuguese, whose spelling is inherited from Occitan.
In French, the name of the letter is pronounced /aʃ/. The French orthography classifies words that begin with this letter in two ways, one of which can affect the pronunciation, even though it is a silent letter either way. The H muet, or "mute" ⟨h⟩, is considered as though the letter were not there at all, so for example the singular definite article le or la, which is elided to l' before a vowel, elides before an H muet followed by a vowel. For example, le + hébergement becomes l'hébergement ('the accommodation'). The other kind of ⟨h⟩ is called h aspiré ("aspirated '⟨h⟩'", though it is not normally aspirated phonetically), and does not allow elision or liaison. For example in le homard ('the lobster') the article le remains unelided, and may be separated from the noun with a bit of a glottal stop. Most words that begin with an H muet come from Latin (honneur, homme) or from Greek through Latin (hécatombe), whereas most words beginning with an H aspiré come from Germanic (harpe, hareng) or non-Indo-European languages (harem, hamac, haricot); in some cases, an orthographic ⟨h⟩ was added to disambiguate the [v] and semivowel [ɥ] pronunciations before the introduction of the distinction between the letters ⟨v⟩ and ⟨u⟩: huit (from uit, ultimately from Latin octo), huître (from uistre, ultimately from Greek through Latin ostrea).
In Italian, ⟨h⟩ has no phonological value. Its most important uses are in the digraphs 'ch' /k/ and 'gh' /ɡ/, as well as to differentiate the spellings of certain short words that are homophones, for example some present tense forms of the verb avere ('to have') (such as hanno, 'they have', vs. anno, 'year'), and in short interjections (oh, ehi).
In Irish, ⟨h⟩ is not considered an independent letter, except for a very few non-native words, however ⟨h⟩ placed after a consonant is known as a "séimhiú" and indicates lenition of that consonant; ⟨h⟩ began to replace the original form of a séimhiú, a dot placed above the consonant, after the introduction of typewriters.
In most dialects of Polish, both ⟨h⟩ and the digraph ⟨ch⟩ always represent /x/.
As a phonetic symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), it is used mainly for the so-called aspirations (fricative or thrills), and variations of the plain letter are used to represent two sounds: the lowercase form ⟨h⟩ represents the voiceless glottal fricative, and the small capital form ⟨ʜ⟩ represents the voiceless epiglottal fricative (or thrill). With a bar, minuscule ⟨ħ⟩ is used for a voiceless pharyngeal fricative. Specific to the IPA, a hooked ⟨ɦ⟩ is used for a voiced glottal fricative, and a superscript ⟨ʰ⟩ is used to represent aspiration.
Descendants and related characters in the Latin alphabet
- H with diacritics: Ĥ ĥ Ħ ħ Ḩ ḩ ẖ ẖ Ḥ ḥ Ḣ ḣ
- IPA-specific symbols related to H: ɦ ʰ
- Ƕ ƕ : Latin letter hwair, derived from a ligature of the digraph hv, and used to transliterate the Gothic letter 𐍈 (which represented the sound [hʷ])
Ancestors, siblings and descendants in other alphabets
- 𐤇 : Semitic letter Heth, from which the following symbols derive
Derived signs, symbols and abbreviations
|Unicode name||LATIN CAPITAL LETTER H||LATIN SMALL LETTER H|
|Numeric character reference||H||H||h||h|
1 and all encodings based on ASCII, including the DOS, Windows, ISO-8859 and Macintosh families of encodings.
- "H" Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition (1989); Merriam-Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged (1993); "aitch", op. cit.
- "'Haitch' or 'aitch'? How do you pronounce 'H'?". BBC News. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
- Dolan, T. P. (1 January 2004). "A Dictionary of Hiberno-English: The Irish Use of English". Gill & Macmillan Ltd. Retrieved 3 September 2016 – via Google Books.
- Todd, L. & Hancock I.: "International English Ipod", page 254. Routledge, 1990.
- John C Wells, Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, page 360, Pearson, Harlow, 2008
- Liberman, Anatoly (7 August 2013). "Alphabet soup, part 2: H and Y". Oxford Etymologist. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
- In many dialects, /hw/ and /w/ have merged
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article H.|
- Media related to H at Wikimedia Commons
- The dictionary definition of H at Wiktionary
- The dictionary definition of h at Wiktionary
- Lubliner, Coby. 2008. "The Story of H." (essay on origins and uses of the letter "h")